HARVIN COLUMN: Take the kids for fun visit to national parks

  • Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2013 12:01 a.m.

About now, parents are looking for ways to get kids out of the house on the weekends. While it still may be chilly, it’s actually a perfect time to plan a visit to one of our national parks.

Think about it. It’s not hot or packed with tourists. You get a chance to stroll leisurely through the exhibits, and kids have time to explore history in their own backyard, something they then can talk about at school. And sometimes it just pays to be a kid. There are so many cool things to do when you don’t have to be, uh, cool.

Like becoming a junior park ranger. Our National Parks have this cool program that allows kids to become junior park rangers, just by picking up a brochure at the front desk. And, of course, we have parks here that people plan their entire summer vacations to visit.

Each brochure has a range of activities depending on age, so that a 5-year-old can be a ranger as easily as a 12-year-old. There’s a list of activities that each child has to complete to become a ranger, and they are designed so that kids can finish all activities while at the park.

Donel Singleton, a park ranger, said the activities vary from simple word puzzles to more complicated things such as finding facts through the exhibits. “The cannons are always popular,” he said. “All the kids love the cannons.”

A visit to Fort Sumter National Monument will yield plenty of cannons as well as facts about the American flag. The fort in the middle of Charleston Harbor has an American flag that was lowered after the fort was surrendered to the Confederates at the beginning of the Civil War.

Then on April 14, 1865, four years to the day after the surrender of the fort, Union Maj. Gen. Robert Anderson raised the flag in triumph over the battered remains, a symbol of reunification of the states.

As anyone who has been to the fort knows, it’s a bit of an isolated place but has one of the best views of the city and requires a boat ride to get there. Whether you are an adult or a kid, it’s easy to put yourself in the place of soldiers defending Charleston. Climbing around the place can be strenuous, but most kids love it and would learn about it even if they weren’t working on a junior badge.

Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island is a fun place to lurk in corners. It has creepy tunnels to see and legends to learn, and then the blast of fresh air hits you as you come out and look at the harbor. It’s easy to see why it has been a lookout spot since early Charlestowne was settled.

Carlin Timmons, a park ranger at the Charles Pinckney Historic Site in Mount Pleasant, said that at the end of the visit, the real park rangers go over the booklets with kids and then sign it and give them a badge. It’s all free with the cost of admission to the parks, and an educational way to spend an afternoon. Go to more than one park, and let your kids start collecting badges as a way of reminding them of great memories. Timmons says that’s one way to get kids into preserving history, and maybe one day, they will take their own kids.

If you like the idea of going to our local parks but can’t get the kids out of the house, there’s still a way to give them a fun learning experience at the National Parks Service kids site: www.nps.gov/webrangers. They can sign on and be a WebRanger for their favorite park. WebRangers provides a safe environment for students to learn about U.S. history, and teachers can use the lessons learned in class.

So plan a fun weekend activity with the kids now that football season is over and baseball season is still around the corner. After all, the Oscars don’t come on until Sunday night.

Reach Stephanie Harvin at 937-5557; sharvin@postandcourier.com.

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